Hamilton Farmers Market – one of the oldest in Canada, established in 1837. Open year round, its sprawling indoor facility is home to approximately 65 vendors who bring in the finest and freshest produce in the region. Nestled atop this iconic facility and overlooking it through their office windows, lies Liaison College, the only culinary school in the Hamilton region. “This is the only school of its kind here, in this region, and Hamilton is a thriving culinary centre”, Owner Christine Demko states. “There is no other culinary school in our area that offers a diploma program, and Hamilton has a thriving culinary presence.”
Hamilton – a city which has experienced a culinary renaissance in recent years. Great choices for fine dining, fusion, or comfort food can now all be found within the city’s emerging restaurant districts. Emerging – yes – even during these challenging COVID times, new restaurants have opened here in Hamilton. Serious culinary talent and celebrity chefs have made Hamilton their base of operations, and the city is attracting many entrepreneurs seeking to open their own restaurant. Efforts from citizens like the late David Hanley over the past several years have brought restaurants, famous chefs, and other businesses together, and promoted both them and their communities. There is an excitement that exists here among businesses, and especially in the restaurant field. “All the restaurant owners are friends. If I run out of tomatoes, I can run across the street and pick some up”, says Tate Graham, owner of The Ship. There is an enthusiasm here for new, and even different restaurants. With real estate prices and rents nowhere near those of Toronto, and a population size that can keep their restaurants at capacity, it’s easy to see Hamilton’s attraction – both to entrepreneurs and to aspiring chefs.
How close is the college to this flourishing community? “At Liaison, our connections to the industry are second to none”, states Demko. “Our students are highly valued. We have some of the biggest names in the restaurant and hospitality industry coming directly to the school to get students. One major challenge I have is to convince them to complete their course for their diploma before agreeing to work for one of the restaurants – I try to explain that those opportunities will still be there. Our placement rate is over 90%.”
What makes Liaison different from other colleges that offer diplomas in culinary arts? “What we do is teach pure cooking. Our students receive the same number of culinary hours as other culinary schools, but in a fraction of the time. We do help our students prepare a resume and prepare for a job interview, but our courses are all cooking-related”.
With a condensed program like Liaison’s, how prepared are graduates when they leave the school? Luis, a former Bay St. banker for 7 years, enrolled at Liaison to pursue his dream of owning his own restaurant. “It [Liaison College] had everything I was looking for. The school was offering what I needed. I liked the big industrial kitchen, and the location was great. It was the only school of its kind in my area. I wasn’t prepared to go into Toronto daily. The instructor was very knowledgeable. The people were very welcoming and friendly. The most important thing I received from Liaison was the technical skills. It was pure cooking. I always had my goals and the passion, but the technical skills that I received were what helped me succeed”. Luis’ Burlington restaurant, Familia Fine Foods, offers delicious lunches, coffees and desserts, and even has a patio. In 2019 Familia received the Burlington Readers’ Choice Award for Best Catering. In 2020 they received Best Catering and Best Frozen Food. When high praise was offered for the quality of his cappuccino coffee, Luis mentioned, “I come from a coffee-growing area in Columbia and I wanted to get a very good Columbian coffee from a farm I knew. This was very important to me.”
What can those entering the industry expect in these Covid-19/post Covid times? “Restaurants have begun to open back up again, not to their full extent, but they’ve begun to open. And the industry is changing, both in income and careers. Because of COVID, the personal chef industry is growing – less people are dining out during these times but still want their food prepared for them. Also, ghost kitchens, where food is prepared for delivery for one or more restaurants, is on the rise. Many restaurants that did not have a delivery option, now do. Restaurants have opened back up and those that survived COVID are adapting to the present times. People are still going out for their meals, or else they are taking advantage of takeout and delivery options. People still have to eat, and the restaurant and hospitality industries are changing and adapting to the times.”
What one piece of advice would you have to a new student enrolling at your college? “I like to tell my students, ‘Culinary Arts is part science and part art. We will provide you with the skills you need but you will bring your own creativity’”.
Liaison College, Hamilton Is Now Affirm College. Click Here to Learn More!